Long day’s journey from truant to Super Bowl-er
HOWIE LONG TRIES HARDER. He’ll tell you so himself: “I might be out-skilled. Someone might be better-looking or talk better or be smarter,” he says. “But I will not be outworked.”
Long’s 13 years as an eight-time All-Pro defensive end for the L.A. Raiders attest to his Robocop tenacity. But what Long, 34, is referring to now is a whole new playing field: the Fox Broadcasting studio in Los Angeles, where each Sunday afternoon, the rookie sportscaster teams up on the NFL pregame and halftime shows with Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson and James Brown. Adept as he has become in the past four months, Long, a 6’5″, 270-lb. hunk with a dirty-blond Flash Gordon brush cut, piercing blue eyes and a jutting, icebreaker jaw, knows it’s his sex appeal, as much as his football savvy, that prompted Fox to draft him. “Like it or not,” he says, “they are trying to bring in a female audience.”
For Long, it is a far, far, better thing to be ogled by women than to be clobbered by offensive linemen the size of Mack trucks. When he finally hung up his helmet last winter, Long was one weary warrior. “I broke my foot, broke my ankle, tore ligaments in both knees, had both shoulders separated, had my right hand reconstructed twice,” he says. “I have major back problems. I’ve broken everything there is to break. What hurts? What doesn’t hurt?”
Which is why, on Sunday afternoons, Long now can be found crunching stats—not bones—with his fellow NFL alumni Bradshaw and Johnson. Bradshaw teases that Long has “a wimpy name and a wimpy voice.” In fact, the soft-spoken Long sounds a bit like Clint Eastwood, and his on-air bravado makes Bradshaw’s day. “Howie,” says Bradshaw, “is not afraid of the camera. He’s the kind of guy viewers listen to because he has credibility.”
The Credible Hulk had a shaky tryout last spring. Overprepared with stats, “I turned into a computer,” he admits. “I lost my personality.” A pep talk from John Madden, Fox’s chief analyst, helped him get it back. “He told me, ‘Be yourself on TV,’ ” says Long. ” ‘Don’t be a hairdo. Be Howie Long, the tough football player. Talk about chasing [Denver Bronco quarterback] John Elway around Mile High Stadium.’ ”
Coach Madden’s advice took root; Long loosened up. Off-camera, though, he keeps things tightly in control. He’s a compulsive list maker. Best places to live in the U.S.? “Cape Cod, Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia,” Long rattles off with the authority of one who visited all four before settling last August with his family—wife Diane, 34, a nonpracticing lawyer, and their three sons, Chris, 9, Kyle, 5, and Howie, 4—in a $1.5 million, brick colonial mansion in rustic Albemarle County, Va.
Best way to fly? “I’ve got a list of the five types of planes that are safe,” says Long, a nervous—yet frequent—flier who commutes every Friday morning to L.A., then catches the Sunday red-eye back home. His top choice: the L-1011.
Low on Long’s list of conversational topics is his hardscrabble childhood. The only son of Howard Sr., a 6’7″ milk loader for a dairy (and now a Boston Housing Authority maintenance manager) and his wife, Margaret, a homemaker, Long grew up in Charlestown, a rough, clannish, working-class section of Boston, where Howie and his older sister Ann Marie were raised primarily by their maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Hilton Mullan. When he was 12, his parents divorced, and Howie spent his adolescence living with a succession of relatives. At 14, already a chronic truant and neighborhood tough, he discovered football after transferring to suburban Milford High School, 20 miles away. “The coach saw me in the hallway,” says Long, “and wondered why this 6’3″, 220-lb. kid wasn’t on the team.” So, Long tried out. “It turned my life around,” he says. “Football gave me something to hang onto and say, ‘I can make it.’ ”
As a junior, Long helped his undefeated Milford Scarlet Hawks team capture a state championship, and in his senior year, the 235-lb. tackle won a football scholarship to Villanova. There he won the affections of Diane Addonizio, a classics major. “I could just sense a real gentleness about him,” she says.
She might have felt differently if she’d ever had to line up opposite Long on the football field, where his (usually) controlled violence got the Raiders’ attention. Long was their second-round pick in the 1981 NFL draft. Deferring graduation for a year, he signed on for a relatively meager $38,000 and soon afterward bought Diane an engagement ring. The couple married on June 27, 1982.
As a rookie Raider, says Long: “I wasn’t a good player, and it frustrated me.” So he went to the team’s defensive-line coach, Earl Leggett. “He said, ‘Teach me to play,’ ” recalls Leggett, now with the Giants. “He had this burning desire to succeed.” Under Leggett’s tutelage, Long improved dramatically, and in 1984 his 13 sacks and five tackles helped the Raiders win Super Bowl XVIII against the Washington Redskins. Ten years later he had become one of a handful of defensive linemen earning a seven-figure salary. “But I knew if my body went on me this season,” says Long, “I couldn’t justify my $2 million-a-year salary. I wanted to go out on top.”
Last April, three months after announcing his retirement, Long signed a four-year contract with Fox. “Let’s just say I took a significant cut in pay,” he says. But not to worry; Long is already planning his third career: becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. To that end he recently signed with ICM executive vice president Jack Gilardi, who also represents action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. According to Gilardi, Long is already eyeing two movie deals and a potential TV series. No wonder his client is brimming with King Kong-size confidence. “I was shocked when I met Schwarzenegger [at a dinner theater],” says Long, who found he was taller than the 6’2″ Austrian Atlas. He is also no slouch in the self-promotion department. “The big question,” he muses, “is whether America is ready for a full-size action hero.” Then again, what American would have the nerve to say no?
MICHAEL A. LIPTON
JANE SIMS PODESTA in Albemarle County